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Avalanche Disappointed With The Finish

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

This season hurts a little more than previous ones for the Colorado Avalanche.

The thoughts and questions of what could haven been will likely resonate with the players a little longer over the next five months as the team fell short of its goal of making the playoffs and competing for the Stanley Cup.

"The reason we feel so hurt right now is because we were in it, and we pretty much shot ourselves in the foot," said Avs forward Matt Duchene. "We're close. We're right there, but there is another level that we all have to get to on and off the ice."

Colorado and the Minnesota Wild were neck-and-neck for the Western Conference's last wild-card position for much of the last six weeks, but it is the Wild that will still be playing when the postseason begins next week.

For a team where there is a "Stanley Cup attitude" and there are daily reminders of raising the silver chalice, missing a chance to be one of 16 clubs that are hopefully fighting into June is disappointing for the Avs.

“It’s tough to really look at the year and feel good about it when you miss the playoffs," said defenseman Tyson Barrie.

The Avalanche went cold at the wrong time, losing a season-high six games in a row and going 1-8-0 in its last nine contests. Colorado closed the year Saturday with a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks, a team that is fighting for a Pacific Division title.

"As much as I hate to say it, it feels like we played our worst hockey at the worse possible time," said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. "We gave ourselves a chance all season to be in the mix at the end of March and to be in a playoff spot in March, and kept losing big games. Even at home ice. We had a couple against Nashville, one against Minnesota, one against Philadelphia that stand out to me. Those are games that you just can't lose."

Having a losing streak to end a year is a tough way to go out, but when the team you're battling for a spot with is also struggling to pick up wins, the missed opportunities can tear at a player.

The Wild didn't finish the season any better then the Avalanche as it lost its final five games. The only reason why the Avs' division rival is advancing is because it got enough of a lead in the standings ahead of the letdown.

Minnesota defeated Colorado 4-0 on March 26 to stretch its playoff cushion to five points, and the Avs could never really close the gap. The team was officially eliminated from postseason contention on Tuesday in a 4-3 loss at the Nashville Predators. It was Game No. 80 of the season.

"We closed the door on ourselves," Duchene said. "They opened it and then we closed it. They didn't close it on us. That is probably the hardest thing sitting here, just knowing—probably after we lost to them, I think we got too down and didn't really realize what we could still do."

Colorado's play at home didn't help its cause either. The team finished 17-20-4 at Pepsi Center while posting a solid 22-19-0 mark on the road.

"It's obvious our home record is not good enough," said head coach Patrick Roy. "We had 44 points on the road and 38 at home. Come on, for a team that wants to make the playoffs, it doesn't work."

The Avs' last victory at Pepsi Center was March 9 against Anaheim. The team lost its final five contests on its home sheet.

Colorado's play during third periods also didn't help matters. The team had a hard time of having the killer instinct when holding onto leads or finding a way to come back when down by a couple goals.

Roy and the players were quick to bring up the first game of the season as an example of this. In that outing back on Oct. 8, Minnesota erased a three-goal third-period deficit en route to a 5-4 victory.

"This year, since the first game of the season when we lost that game, it really made us very fragile," Roy said. "Every time we were going into the third, I think we carried that game all year long in the third period. It hit us hard, and I think it is something that we're going to have to approach next year in that we are going to have to be stronger in the third period, especially mentally."

The Avs were too inconsistent all season, as they couldn't string together a winning streak of longer then four games or play a full 60 minutes every night as there were too many occasions like opening night. Colorado lost six games when leading and seven when tied going into the final stanza.

Even on Saturday, the Avalanche only trailed the Ducks 3-2 entering the third period, but Anaheim nailed any comeback hopes shut by capitalizing on mistakes and scoring twice more.

"It's kind of funny. You look back at the first game of the season, and it is kind of summed up the year," Duchene said. "Obviously, that is not the reason we didn't make the playoffs, but it was kind of our year in a nutshell, Game 1 of the year. That hurts. That is something that we're all going to go home this summer and it's going to sting. Hopefully that sting and that hatred of that feeling and of that losing will drive us to be better next year."

Unfortunately, not every player will still be on the team when the new season begins in October.

Changes to the roster will likely be made, which is expected given expiring contracts in a salary cap league and the team's failure to reach its goal.

"We believe we have a good enough team to make the playoffs, and there is no doubt in my mind about that," Landeskog said. "When you don't, there is going to be consequences. And as much as I hate to be standing here answering these questions, it has to be made. We haven't been playing good enough. We should have been in the playoffs, and we should have made a run."

However, despite missing out on the playoffs for a second year in a row, Duchene said the Avs' drive to compete and win was present every night.

"The one thing I will say is that every single guy in here has the right goal at heart and the right motivation and thinks about the right things," Duchene said. "We have a character group in here. There is not a guy or two guys or three guys when I look around the room and say, 'That guy doesn't have his head in the right place.' I don't think anybody else is saying that about anybody in this room. That is one positive thing. We win and die as a team, and that is how this ended and it sucks, but there is stuff to build on going into next year."

IGINLA PASSES HULL

Jarome Iginla scored his 22nd goal of the season and the 611th of his career on Saturday, breaking a tie with Bobby Hull for sole possession of 16th place on the NHL's all-time goals list.

Iginla, who finished second on the team in goals behind Matt Duchene (30), is now chasing former Team Canada teammate and current Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic (625) for 15th all time.

The Edmonton, Alberta, native was also playing in his 1,474th career game, which tied Doug Gilmour for 20th place in league history.

IRONMEN

Five Avalanche players didn't take a night off and were fortunate enough to stay healthy all year long. Francois Beauchemin, Nick Holden, Jarome Iginla, Cody McLeod and Carl Soderberg all appeared in their 82nd games of the season Saturday afternoon.

For the 38-year-old Iginla, it marked the 11th time in 19 seasons that he appeared in all 82 games, including his second time in two campaigns with Colorado.

McLeod and Soderberg played in every game for the second consecutive year. Both forwards played their first complete 82-game slate last season.

Beauchemin appeared in every NHL game for the fifth time, while it was the first time for Holden. Beauchemin and Holden are the first Avs defensemen to reach 82 games since Scott Hannan in 2007-08.

Blake Comeau was close, as he played in 81 contests this year. The only game he missed was Jan. 22 versus St. Louis for the birth of his daughter.

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